Monday, 14 December 2015

'(Insert Terrorist Here) High School': The Courage of Naming...

The 1998 sci-fi film 'Deep Impact' tells the story of a comet on target to hit Earth and a crew of astronauts sent to destroy the comet with nuclear weapons. 

After several failed attempts to carry out the mission as planned, and an enormous chunk of the comet now guaranteed to crash into the Earth, the captain of the mission hatches a last-ditch plan: a suicide mission, deliberately piloting their craft into the comet and detonating their remaining nuclear weapons.

After a long, sombre pause, one of the crew muses, ‘well, look at the bright side: we’ll all have high schools named after us.’

It’s true; we tend to name our schools, universities, public buildings, parks, and landmarks after heroes- incredible people, great achievers, people who proved they were role models…

We name things after people in which we recognize greatness.

That’s certainly what was probably on the minds of the students of Queens University in Belfast when they voted to name their student union after Nelson Mandela.

It doesn’t seem like that interesting a fact until you realize they did so in 1986, when Mandela was in prison serving a life sentence for sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government and his political party, the African National Congress, was illegal.

It would be 4 more years until Mandela was released from prison to begin negotiations with the South African government to end the Apartheid system;

three more years before he received, along with then-South African President F.W. de Klerk, the Nobel Peace Prize;

another year for him to win the presidency of South Africa in a landslide;

16 years for the US government to grant him the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Queen Elizabeth II to give him a knighthood;

and 23 years for the UN to declare 18 July ‘Mandela Day’.

Today, naming things after Nelson Mandela is a no-brainer.

It doesn’t take much courage to name a school after a person that conventional wisdom holds to be a hero;

It takes significantly more courage to name it after a person your government has officially declared a terrorist…

Did Mandela deserve the honour in 1986? Lots of people at the time would’ve probably said ‘no’. With hindsight, an overwhelming majority would probably say ‘yes’.

Which begs the question:

Who living today- declared by our government to be a terrorist, a dangerous criminal, or a national security risk- should we be naming our schools after?

Who is our unrecognized ‘Mandela’ now?

Who deserves our courage now?

Chelsea Manning?

Edward Snowden?

Shaker Aamer (Google him…)?

Adel Noori (Google him…)?

Veronza Bowers Jr. (Google him…)?

Jeremy Hammond (Google him…)?

Eric McDavid (Google him…)?

I honestly don’t know…

I make no claims for or against these people deserving such an honour.

But America locks up a greater proportion of its population than any other nation on Earth, and its 'terror watch list' includes over a million people; 

There’s got to be a few in there who deserve a school name...

The question remains:

Who has the courage to even bring it up?

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